- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Stationary tropical storm off Florida defying landfall projections

MIAMI (Reuters) — Tropical Storm Ophelia sat off Florida’s Atlantic coast yesterday, barely budging and defying forecasters’ attempts to predict where or whether it might hit land.

Ophelia coalesced overnight from a loose and swirling mass of thunderstorms and had top winds of 50 mph.

At 5 p.m., Ophelia’s center was about 80 miles east-northeast of Cape Canaveral, Fla. The storm sat nearly stationary all day and was expected to meander around the same spot for the next few days, forecasters at the National Hurricane Center said.

Ophelia was expected to alternately weaken and strengthen as it hugged the Florida coast, but still could grow into a weak hurricane, with winds of at least 74 mph.

Tropical storm warnings, alerting residents that the storm could hit them within 24 hours, were posted for an 85-mile stretch of shoreline from Cocoa Beach to Flagler Beach in northeastern Florida.

Forecasters said Ophelia could dump 3 to 8 inches of rain on parts of central and northern Florida and southeastern Georgia and trigger dangerous riptides along the southeastern coast of the United States.

But the air currents that guide the path of tropical storms were so weak that forecasting models disagreed sharply on Ophelia’s most likely track.

One or two nudged it west across Florida and into the northern Gulf of Mexico, the region stricken by catastrophic Hurricane Katrina. Others had it looping slowly eastward and away from the United States.

The models flip-flopped all day, so the hurricane center issued a compromise forecast: Ophelia is going to stay put for a few days.

In the Mid-Atlantic, Hurricane Nate strengthened as it neared the British colony of Bermuda. It had top winds of 85 mph and was expected to pass just south of the island of 65,000 people today.

Nate was centered 200 miles south-southwest of Bermuda, and its waves were expected to lash the island.

“I think we’re unlikely to sustain a lot of damage from Hurricane Nate,” said Elizabeth Harris, a meteorologist with the Bermuda Weather Service. “It’s just really going to brush past.”

Farther north in the Atlantic, Hurricane Maria was a danger to ships but did not threaten land. It was about 875 miles east-northeast of Bermuda and still had top winds of 80 mph. Maria was moving over colder water that was expected to siphon its strength and break it apart today.

The tropical trio was not unusual for early September, which is traditionally the peak of the Atlantic-Caribbean hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to Nov. 30.

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